26th October 2017  |  

Gamekeeper turned poacher…aka, the world of commercial content creation

As the commercial editor of MailOnline, the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and Metro.co.uk, I aim to weave brands into our editorial every day.  With more than 20 years of experience as a journalist in print and online, I have realised that getting editorial and sponsored content right is not always easy.

It can be tricky to cut through the noise in a confused and fragmented market to resonate with readers in a way that clients are happy with.  My team and I have to tread a careful line between clients’ desires to push for the hard sell, and our experience as journalists which tells us that readers don’t want that.

Last month, Barclays asked me to come and join a panel including David Dinsmore, COO of News UK, and Piers Parry-Crooke, an editor at the BBC’s Business and Economics unit, at their Corporate Communications Offsite day.  They asked me to tell some 200 of their PR heads from around the world how we at MailOnline work with brands to produce great engaging content.

As well as showing them a hard copy print out of our homepage, which is 14 metres long, demonstrating just how much content we produce every day, I told them how we approach commercial content.  Here’s a very brief look at what I said, and in true MOL form, it’s in a listicle, because whether you love them or hate them, readers still love them…

  1. Culture needs to be tested (this is ad speak for: know your audience).  At MailOnline we cover everything people might want to read, from Brexit to Bake Off, and from Kim Kardashian to Kim Jong Un, with a team of more than 800 full-time journalists working round the world, round the clock. They post more than 1600 stories every day, as well as 650 videos, and more than 19,500 images.  Every single day. By testing our consumers (ad speak for readers) with thousands of stories we begin to understand what is read, what is culturally important, which shows, stars and sports are popular, and which aren’t. You have to brave and open to test your audience, not everything works, and sometimes you have to tweak it. Be flexible, and learn from what doesn’t work as much as what does.
  2. Pictures and headlines are attention grabbing. We know that readers want pictures – lots of them – and fun, interesting headlines.  Not annoying clickbait, but headlines that make you want to click on them, and headlines that won’t leave you disappointed when you DO click on the story.  The headline and the ‘puff picture’, the little picture you see next to the headline on the MOL homepage, are what make readers decide to read more – or not.  So they have to be right. But you have to be ready to change them when needed – that may mean a new picture or a rewritten headline.
  3. Try to give your reader something new. By new I don’t mean new.  Obviously. It can mean ‘new old’, which is a term we use to describe something that may not be technically new, but it may be new to our readers, be that stunning nature photographs or an interesting report from a niche science mag that was published a month ago but hasn’t been seen in the mainstream til now.
  4. Provoke emotions – that may be a sad story about a puppy, it may be funny pictures of children making a mess, it may be pictures of Britain 100 years ago to make readers feel nostalgic. Or it may be an opinion piece by one of our columnists like Piers Morgan, who always engenders strong debate. When a reader feels something they are much more likely to remember your message, and to want to come back to your site.
  5. And the most important of all: be interesting! That may mean a celebrity spending a night with someone who is not their wife, or it may (thinking of brands) mean something more useful (10 things to consider when buying your first home, five of the best current accounts, clever tricks celebs use to look amazing). I have yet to find a client we can’t create engaging commercial content for, but we must keep the story interesting and relevant, so no hard sell.  We know that readers are happy to read sponsored content, as long as A) we’re clear about the fact that it’s sponsored, and B) it’s not pushing them to buy something.

Working on the commercial side of the business after two decades on the other side of the fence has been fascinating.  I used to diss the advertising teams as loud and shouty.  Now I know that they ARE loud and shouty, but they also have boundless creativity, laser sharp business acumen, and a staggeringly impressive gift of the gab that encourages clients to hand money over to reinvest in our fabulous products.

By Harriet Arkell, Commercial Editor

To find out more about commercial content opportunities and what we could create for your brand, click here